There is no denying that the losses of Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin and Karlos Dansby hurt the Cardinals this season. The defending NFC West Champs stand at a disappointing 5-10. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff, however, are practicing a theory I've always believed in -- if you're going to struggle, you might as well play your young players to determine if there are any building blocks for the future.
Arizona rookie quarterback John Skelton will get much of the glory following the Cardinals' last-second victory over the Dallas Cowboys, but in reality he was only one of various first-year players who stood out during the rare Christmas day NFL game.
Skelton, a fifth round pick out of Skelton, posted marginal numbers (11 of 25 for 183 yards and a TD), but made plays when he needed to, including finding Larry Fitzgerald on 4th down to extend the game-winning drive and hitting fellow rookie Andre Roberts for a 74-yard touchdown to give Arizona a 21-3 lead in the second quarter. Skelton has a rocket for a right arm and a showed some poise in the pocket, stepping up when he needed to and keeping his eyes downfield. Again, he was far from spectacular, but did not throw an interception and slipped away from several sacks.
Roberts, a third round pick out of The Citadel, was arguably the most impressive rookie on the night. He led the Cardinals in targets (nine), receptions (five) and receiving yards (110) and caught Skelton's only touchdown throw of the evening. His most impressive reception was not the touchdown (in which the Dallas defender fell down), but a 21 yard catch (amid very tight coverage) on 3rd and 7 that extended Arizona's lead in the fourth quarter to four points with 3:45 left to play. Roberts also showed some burst and vision as a returner, registering a combined 134 on nine returns (five on kickoffs, four on punts).
Roberts was "arguably" the Cardinals' most impressive rookie because the Cardinals' second round pick, linebacker Daryl Washington tied with veteran teammate Paris Lemon to lead the game with eight tackles (all solos). Washington's athleticism stood out at TCU, but there were concerns about his physicality and instincts. Those concerns were largely put to rest last night as Washington took on blocks and located the football quickly throughout the game.
The Cardinals' rookie production continued. Fourth round pick O'Brien Schofield (Wisconsin), who tore his ACL approximately 11 months ago at the Senior Bowl, notched his first career sack against the Cowboys. First round pick Dan Williams , who was in Whisenhunt's dog house early in the year due to coming in overweight, flashed the power inside that led the Cardinals to making him the 26th pick of the draft. The former Tennessee Volunteer also showed impressive hustle, chasing ball-carriers downfield and to the sideline.
The Cardinals may be wrapping up a disappointing season, but with each of their top five picks from the 2010 draft contributing to their Christmas Day victory, they (and their fans) should feel good about their future.